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Browns' Playoff Scenarios Galore: Week 16

Last week against the Buffalo Bills, it seemed like our playoff chances would've been slim if the Cleveland Browns lost. However, in a way, things will be worse this week if Derek Anderson and company fail to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals, because the amount of games left to make up ground would be lost. It's best to think positive, but until I see the Browns with more points on the scoreboard than the Bengals this Sunday as the game ends, I'm going to be very nervous. I was confident against the Cardinals, Jets, and Bills, but the "win, or you're basically screwed" vibe that surrounds this game has changed my demeanor.

Here are the top three wildcard tie-breaking procedures that we need to be concerned with:

  1. Head-to-head
  2. Best record in conference
  3. Best record in common games

Scenario #1 - Clinch Playoff Spot

The following games are this weekend. In the best scenario, the winners are in navy:

  1. Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals
  2. New York Jets vs. Tennessee Titans = N/A

It's simple. If the Browns win, we don't even have to worry about what the Titans do against the Jets at 4:15 PM. A win, regardless of what the Titans do, will clinch a playoff spot for the Browns. To prove that, let's assume that the Browns beat the Bengals and lose against the 49ers, while the Titans win their final two games. These would be the final standings:

Team W L ComC ComT Conf
Cleveland Browns 10 6 -- 4-1 8-4
Tennessee Titans 10 6 4-1 -- 7-5

(ComC = Common games with Cleveland)
(ComT = Common games with Tennessee)

Our better conference record would be the official deciding factor, and we wouldn't have to worry about the common opponents records. Now then, what about the depressing situation? Here it is:

Scenario #2 - Titans Seize Advantage

  1. Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals
  2. New York Jets vs. Tennessee Titans

Heading into Week 17, the wildcard race would look like this:

Team W L ComC ComT Conf
Cleveland Browns 9 6 -- 3-2 7-5
Tennessee Titans 9 6 4-1 -- 6-5

Wait a minute...the Browns would still hold the advantage heading into Week 17? Yes, this is true: regardless of what happens this Sunday, the Browns will hold a playoff spot heading into Week 17. However, the big asterisk that you can shove next to this scenario is that if both the Browns and the Titans win in Week 17, the Titans would make the postseason. Why? Take a look at another table:
 

Team W L ComC ComT Conf
Tennessee Titans 10 6 4-1 -- 7-5
Cleveland Browns 10 6 -- 3-2 7-5

Since the Browns are playing an NFC team in Week 17, our conference record cannot improve beyond 7-5. The Titans are playing an AFC team though -- the Indianapolis Colts -- and a win would put them in a tie with us for that category. The next tiebreaker would look at the common opponents category, which is where the loss to the Bengals in Week 16 would come back to haunt us.

Hopefully, if the Browns lose to the Bengals, the Colts will pile it on the Titans early in Week 17 before they start putting their backups in. Then, a Browns win and a Titans loss in Week 17 would give the Browns a one-game advantage record-wise over the Titans, and obviously put us into the postseason.

Scenario #3 - Division Win

  1. Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals
  2. San Francisco 49ers vs. Cleveland Browns
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens

In the above scenario, the Browns would move ahead of the Steelers for the AFC North title. The division standings would look like this:

Team W L H to H Div Conf
Cleveland Browns 11 5 0-2 4-2 8-4
Pittsburgh Steelers 10 6 2-0 5-1 7-5

Would it be such a tall order for the Steelers to fall to the Ravens? Under ordinary circumstances, I would say "yes". However, consider all of the change and external elements in the game. The Steelers are only 3-4 on the road this season. They just lost Willie Parker for the season (although I actually like Najeh Davenport better). And, the Ravens may have Troy Smith under center. Granted, I don't want a rookie facing the Steelers' defense, but between him, Kyle Boller, and Steve McNair, I'd take my chances with Smith. In one final scenario, how would things have to go down for the Steelers to not even make the postseason? Imagine if the scenario above occurs, and the Titans win their final two games. This is how the race for the sixth seed would look:
 

Team W L ComP ComT Conf
Tennessee Titans 10 6 2-3 -- 7-5
Pittsburgh Steelers 10 6 -- 2-3 7-5

What's up with this scenario? We can't decide from the conference record or the common opponents record. Based on there scores of each team's games in the final two weeks, if the Titans finish the season with a better strength of victory, then they will make the playoffs. There is also a loophole where the Jaguars could lose both of their games and end up winning the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Steelers, as the Titans would finish ahead of the Jaguars.

Conclusion

Just like last time, I hope all of the scenarios above are rather clear. If there are any mistakes that I made, please let me know so I can fix them. The message this week: beat the Bengals, and we don't have to worry about being "in" or "out" heading into the season's final week.